Watching from afar and throughout the pandemic, I’ve been willing the World Match Racing Tour every success. It’s been a hard watch as global borders have closed on zealous policy and sponsors have retreated meaning events of the past two years got cancelled on a whim. But here’s the thing: match racing is arguably more relevant today than it ever was and this is a Tour that deserves to keep on motoring. The very fact that it is back and flourishing is testament to all those involved who never said die. Chapeau to the believers. They are back with a bang.
My view is that the best days for the World Match Racing Tour are still ahead and that as soon as the AC & SailGP circuits standardise, as they will, the edge for the sailors will be found back in non-foilers dicing and duking just inches apart and honing that extra 1% back on the Tour. It’s unquestionable and absolutely no secret to the coaches of the top teams on the glamour circuits that a lot of the pros could do with a brush up and a dust-down on the World Match Racing Tour. And that’s not just the helms – the crews could well benefit too from getting a few events under their muscle belts and time out of the gym. Nothing better than a high intensity work-out actually on the water. As I say, better days ahead.
But I’m delighted to see the prestigious Congressional Cup thundering away over in Long Beach this week with a right royal dust-up at the sharp end between Taylor Canfield and Britain’s match-race uber-specialist, Ian Williams.
The venue simply couldn’t be more perfect for match-racing with a stadium course within ice-cream dropping range off the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier and this is a discipline that hasn’t got any easier over the past 22 years. To win, you’ve got to be mustard, you’ve got to be so on it and perform to another level. Precision is everything and one wrong move equals a rapid slip down the rankings.
The good ones are very good. And the young guns are coming through magnificently, progressing through the Ficker Cup and other qualifiers. I tell you, match-racing is our purest discipline and it’s something of a marvel when it’s done at this level.
To win the Congressional Cup is like saying you’ve won the Masters in Golf or the US Open in Tennis. The list of winners reads like a Who’s Who of sailing: Dennis Conner, Harold Cudmore, Chris Law, Ted Turner, Dave Perry, Rod Davis, Chris Dickson, Eddie Warden-Owen, Peter Gilmour, Gavin Brady, Ed Baird, Peter Holmberg, Ken Read, Terry Hutchinson, Francesco Bruni and in the modern day it’s Ian Williams with four wins and Taylor Canfield with five. This is the top of the top flight where the very best cut their teeth and show us what they’ve got. You can’t ignore the Congressional Cup in the same way that you can’t ignore the World Match Race Tour.
Since 2000, the Tour has distributed through prize-money an absolutely mind-blowing $23 million to competitors. That is an astonishing runway of just over $1m a year. And this year, after a difficult but completely understandable and relatable period, the Tour is back with a bang.
After Long Beach, they decamp to Poland, then Montenegro, on to Helsinki, then Sweden and Italy, before all back to the States for the Grand Slam regattas in Chicago, Detroit, Oyster Bay New York, then back to Europe for Estonia, Germany before Singapore, Poland again and hopefully a grand final in Shenzen, China if Covid restrictions ease.
That’s a lot of racing. That’s a circuit. But for now, all that matters is the story of the 57th Congressional Cup and massive bragging rights. Can Ian Williams close the gap to Canfield in the history books? Will Canfield extend? Can someone new scratch their name on that fabulous, storied trophy? It’s all to play for.
The World Match Race Tour is the business. The organisation is top drawer. The people involved behind the scenes are first class. The sport is richer for their determination to make it succeed and I for one think it has the brightest of bright futures on our crowded sports’ calendar. The next few days of the Congressional Cup will showcase just how vital it is that we have a flourishing WMRT. I wish the competitors every stroke of luck and will be watching intently.
What’s not to love?